Once looked at as the premier position group in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is hoping to regain its old form in 2021. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins both missed significant time last year, with Collins not playing a single snap. The ever-so-reliable All-Pro Zack Martin was banged up as well and found himself in and out of the lineup until ultimately succumbing to injuries; he was shutdown by the team for the season in early December. Finding rhythm and continuity on the offensive line seemed to be a struggle from Week 1 and the team never quite found its footing as the Cowboys totaled over 10 different starting offensive line combinations throughout the season.
Early reports indicate that both Smith and Collins are looking good in their road to recovery and both are believed to be ready to go once training camp arrives. The health of Martin is positive as well and as it was reported back in January that if Dallas had advanced to the playoffs, there was a chance he would have found a way to be ready for their wild card round matchup. There seems to be no indication that he has been hindered throughout the offseason as he trains for the upcoming year. All reports being positive is exactly what the Cowboys need to hear as the argument could be made that the success of the team very well could hinge on the health and play of their offensive line.
There is no question about the pedigree of the aforementioned ‘big three’ on the o-line for Dallas, but what matters most is what level of play they can provide moving forward. When healthy, they are as good as any other linemen in the league. For this team to be the offensive juggernaut they have the potential to be, they will need to stay out of the training room and regain their prior form. Many believe not only is that doable, but it is in fact expected.
Tyron Smith has been in the league for what feels like ages, and he has already carved out a Hall of Fame career for himself. As of late he has been battling injuries that have forced him to miss 20 games in the last three seasons. Although Smith has been in the league for ten years already, as he enters his 11th season, its almost unbelievable that he is just 30 years old and many believe he still has good football ahead of him. The injuries have been discouraging but when on the field and healthy, he is still a dominant left tackle that opposing defenses avoid and respect as Smith has only given up three sacks while playing 2,643 snaps since 2017.
La’el Collins was sorely missed last season, and the carousel at right tackle was a source of anxiety for fans, and an appreciation for the six-year veteran all in one. Outside of 2020, Collins has only missed one game since 2017, and the absence of his nasty, hard-nosed style of football was truly felt in the run game. Reports coming into last year’s training camp were that Collins came into camp out of shape and many viewed that as a motivation issue, rather than fans and media alike truly understanding the severity of his hip injury that eventually led to surgery and him missing the entire 2020 season. All indications are that Collins looks good and is ready to go heading into the season, and there is much optimism for his readiness going into 2021.
Dak Prescott and La’el Collins gettin’ that ab workout in today— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) May 12, 2021
(via Amari Cooper/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/7Wuaf6ATY7
Where this offensive line success will truly lie is in the interior spots not manned by Zack Martin. Connor Williams looks to be entrenched at his customary left guard spot, and although he is routinely viewed as a weaker spot in this unit, that criticism has not always been fair. Outside of going head-to-head versus Aaron Donald in week one, Williams was able to show growth, leadership, and flash a quality level of play throughout 2020 as he finished second in the league in played snaps at 1,146 and tied for 11th best in the league by allowing four sacks on the year. With all of the moving parts and injuries throughout the line, Williams quickly found himself as the old head and one of the most senior members on the front five at times. As he enters his contact year and his future somewhat uncertain, Williams’ continued maturation and development looks to be key to not only his personal success, but the main focus of helping this ball club reach its potential for this upcoming season.
The center position is much murkier than the rest of the line. Many believe second-year man Tyler Biadasz is the front runner to man the center spot, with competition coming from third-year man Connor McGovern. The idea of bringing back old pal Joe Looney has also been bounced around as well as he is viewed as a quality locker room guy and a player with valued position flex. Ever since Travis Frederick’s retirement, its been understood that replacing that type of production and leadership would be tough to do, and although these players are not on that level, there is still reasons to believe that a quality player can be developed and plugged into that role moving forward.
The identity of this Cowboys team is going to be their high-powered offense manned by their high-paid quarterback. As the team is currently constructed, this offense is going to bear the load of responsibility. Getting Ezekiel Elliott on track for his revenge tour in 2021, having Tony Pollard involved in creative ways, making sure the ball can be spread around to the multitude of talented wide receivers and tight ends, are all keys to this teams success. However, to ensure all this is possible the offensive line play needs to be on point, and everything starts and finishes with the front five of the Dallas Cowboys.